How is your internal communication?

When we start working with a company, during the first couple of weeks we interview every member of staff, face to face, confidentially, to see what’s really happening where the rubber meets the road.

From the thousands of interviews over the years, we’ve gathered some very clear ideas about what works and what doesn’t work when trying to motivate and lead staff, and one key factor that comes up over and over again is the complaint “we don’t know what’s going on until the last minute, we never get to hear the full story”.

We’ve found that companies with well-informed staff work better, the staff take more care, work more productively and work smarter and they make you more money in the long term.


Three types of communication

There are three basic types of communication necessary in business:

1) Job or task-based – what needs doing, how well it needs doing, systems and processes, safety, quality control etc with input feedback from staff.

2) Personal performance – each staff member needs to know exactly what is expected of them, how well they are doing, and what the future holds for them.

3) The big picture – how the company is doing, where it is going, what the future holds, prospects in the pipeline, recent successes, feedback from customers and the market.

We’ve had clients say to us “why should we tell the staff how the company is doing? We pay them, that’s enough.” Unfortunately, that might be enough to keep the wheels turning, but no more than that.

When setting up a new business, it’s easy to design and implement the “habit” of communicating from the start. What about existing businesses though? They may not have all the good habits in place so it will be a matter of introducing them.


Operational management example – manufacturing scenario

Let’s focus on just the first type of communication – Job or task-based – (Operational Management to use the jargon)

  • Start each year with an annual “State of the Nation” talk. This covers the big picture (#3 above) but also sets the scene for any operational changes, challenges or process improvement. For example, the new Health and Safety (H&S)legislation, the introduction of ISO or Q Base, etc.
  • Bring the timescale down to your management meetings with your department heads, or foremen, whoever directly guides production. How often do you have production meetings? Monthly is a good starting point, long enough to make changes, and short enough to keep accountability going. These meetings must be recorded simply and effectively, with the issue, the decision, who is going to do what about it, and by when. Next meeting – tick off the items accomplished and don’t accept excuses (even from yourself) when things haven’t happened.  H&S must be discussed at these meetings.
  • Your supervisors, managers or foremen need to hold weekly “shop floor” or “toolbox” meetings to brief the staff on workflow, and expected problems, and also update H&S hazards, and remedial actions needed and taken. Again, document these meetings. Use the same format – issue, decision, action to be taken, who and when.
  • The last part of “job-based” communication is how you get feedback and ideas from your team and how those ideas are evaluated. Don’t put barriers in the way of your people’s thinking. The old, ‘suggestion box” method doesn’t work, by the way, unless you want to gather some fairly pointed suggestions about management!
  • Make sure your supervisors ask staff for ideas and improvements and give them a format for passing the ideas on. Periodically, take the time personally to talk to your teams in each area of the business about what could be improved.  A simple 10-minute toolbox meeting is often enough to get people contributing, or maybe a shared lunch can get the ideas flowing.
  • Walk the floor and look for evidence of delays or frustrations – materials cluttering workstations, stock building up in despatch, people looking for tools, waiting for assistance. Find out what causes the delay and what could be done to fix it. Make a note, and action it. Deal with the constraint and ease the flow.
  • Even when an idea from the shop floor is impractical, always make a note of it. Encourage staff with, “we’ll look into that…” and always get back to the person who made the suggestion. Perhaps, “Well, we’ve thought it through and we don’t think it will work AT PRESENT because…but thank you for your suggestion, keep them coming.”

Never just flatten ideas with “Nah, we’ve tried that, didn’t work.” Remember things change with time. What didn’t work last year, might just work this year with changing conditions, machines, and materials.

Take advantage of these points – work at developing the habit of effective, regular communication on operational points. You’ll see the results very quickly.

Why “Manager or Mushroom Farmer”? Staff feel kept in the dark and liken the quality of information they are fed to fertilizer! Just the right conditions for mushrooms to grow, but not for humans. So, are YOU a manager, or a mushroom farmer?